Environmentalists, state representatives discuss the future of Naperville’s energy supply

State Rep. Janet Yang Rohr and Illinois State Senator Laura Ellman at Monday's NEST event on the future of Naperville’s energy supply
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The Naperville City Council chambers were packed Monday night for a discussion about the future of the city’s energy supply.

Environmentalists, state representatives, and residents implored the Naperville City Council to think twice about powering the city with coal and shift to more sustainable resources. The discussion was led by the Naperville Environment and Sustainability Task Force (NEST).

Naperville’s contract with IMEA

Naperville began purchasing electric power for the city from the Illinois Municipal Energy Agency (IMEA) back in June 2011. The deal runs through 2035 and according to 2023 budget estimates, it will cost the city approximately $120 million this year.

In early 2024, IMEA will likely request Naperville officials sign off on a 10 to 15-year contract extension.

IMEA is a publicly-owned company and is not required to abide by the same state regulations as ComEd or other investor-owned energy providers. IMEA chooses where the power supply comes from, service to customers, and local distribution.

Chair of NEST’s Energy Committee Maureen Stillman said 78% of IMEA’s power for Naperville comes from the burning of coal. She shared that roughly half of the coal for the city is burned at the Prairie State Energy Campus power plant in southwest Illinois’ Village of Marissa.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Prairie State is the largest coal plant in Illinois. Naperville became a co-owner of Prairie State through its deal with IMEA.

The City of Naperville declined to comment about NEST’s event on Monday.

Future impact of coal burning

In 2021, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker passed The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). This bill aims for Illinois to be 100% reliant on renewable energy by 2050.

Environmentalists like Stillman are worried about the future with continued emissions for the time being.

“Burning coal emits sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and mercury,” said Stillman. “And this causes both heart and lung disease.”

Stillman said the burning also produces coal ash, which contains heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury.

Public hearings on Naperville’s power

Stillman asked the city council to help plan public hearings on power supply and to “investigate emerging technologies.”

“We want to hold public meetings to create requirements and require an open and transparent process,” said Stillman. “It’s 2023 and our contract does not end until 2035. We have time to come together as stakeholders and work with the city and the city council to construct our mission.”

Scott Allen from the Citizens Utility Board doesn’t want the Naperville public to be left in the dark.

“Changes have to come through the local level and through direct democratic input,” said Allen. “We have to ensure that each of you is able to access the information that you need and more importantly, the information that your city needs to make solid decisions.”

State Rep. Janet Yang Rohr and Illinois State Senator Laura Ellman spoke at Monday’s event. They both showed support for fostering an informed group of Naperville citizens and public officials.

“We’ve got a lot of thinking to do, and a lot of collaborating to do,” said Ellman. “But we have the time, we have got the utility, we’ve got the informed and caring public.”

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